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Now more than ever the Temple Mount Sifting Project needs your support!

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Dear friends and supporters of the Temple Mount Sifting Project,

The project is currently undergoing significant developments that aim to advance progress on several fronts: Scientific research and publication of the finds, public awareness of the importance of the Temple Mount heritage and of scientific facts concerning its history, and resumption of the sifting on June 2nd. In order to make all this happen we need your continued support!

Unfortunately, the promise of funding by PM Netanyahu remains unfulfilled and we continue to rely on donations. In addition, our funding needs have increased due to the urgent need to resume the sifting. Approximately 30% of the soil removed from the Temple Mount has not yet been sifted. This soil is under imminent threat from erosion due to exposure to the elements, and to its mixing with other illegal refuse deposits. In addition, a large amount of excavated soil remains on the Temple Mount itself, and in the light of events during the last month of Ramadan (June 2018), we understand that this earth is also in danger and needs to be sifted, after finding a suitable controlled method for transferring it from the Mount.

The project has progressed so far thanks to wide public support, and we are asking you to continue your support until all sifting and research have been completed. Gaby always says that the project’s most important find is its people, and in truth we are only investing so much effort in trying to continue this important work for you.

We hope you will consider continuing your support to the project and help encourage others to join the Temple Mount Sifting Project mission.

Further details are available at our crowdfunding website: half-shekel.org

Two Important Announcements

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Dear friends and supporters, this time we have two important announcements for you:

First the bad news. The government’s promises of funding have not been fulfilled. In September 2016, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly vowed to fund the project, a promise repeated when he invited us to a meeting with him in December 2016. These promises have yet to be materialized, despite that the Prime Minister subsequently tasked the Israel Antiquities Authority to assess the Sifting Project’s funding needs and research plan. Over the following year, the IAA examined our research and budget proposals and even sought the recommendation of a committee of senior archaeologists from different academic institutions. This process lasted a whole year and finally on April 2018 the IAA director sent a letter to the Prime Minister office with the recommendation to fund a five-year research plan for the publication of the Sifting Project finds summing 2.4 million dollars.

Sifting Project directors meeting with PM Netanyahu (Dec 6th 2016). From left to right: Zachi Dvira, Dr. Gabriel Barkay, Edward Baumstein (the organization’s Board Director), PM Netanyahu and Ran Baratz (former PM Office media adviser)

All in all, things moved very slowly, and more than once we sensed that someone was trying to prevent the funding. Eventually, we were told that the government had settled on a plan, whereby we would receive altogether five million NIS (1.4 million USD) from the budgets of the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, and the Office of the Prime Minister. However, before the decision could be ratified, the chief counsel to the Ministry of Culture halted the process, citing a pre-election moratorium, despite other legal experts’ claims that no such problem exists for a process that began over two years ago.

Sadly, our case is being handled at a very sluggish pace. It appears that we won’t receive government funding before the elections, and it is doubtful that we will be able to restart the process afterwards. This puts us in a difficult position, but we hope that we will be able to keep afloat with donations from supporters in Israel and abroad, as we have done until now, until we have finished all research on the project’s finds.

And now for the good news:

Despite that we haven’t succeeded in receiving government funding, and despite that we haven’t yet raised funds for this from other sources, we are renewing the sifting in a new, permanent location, this summer! The sifting site will be set up in the “HaMasu’ot Lookout” compound, near to the Hebrew University on Mt Scopus. The site is more accessible by public transport than the previous location, without security complications, and has an abundance of parking space. We are planning to launch the activity on the forthcoming Jerusalem day, 28th of Iyyar, June 2nd.

Visitors at the HaMasu’ot Lookout

30% of the Temple Mount soil, currently residing in the Zurim Valley National Park, is still waiting to be sifted. Owing to the heavy research workload surrounding artifacts awaiting scientific publication, we planned on taking a longer break in the sifting. However, on recognition of the imminent threat to the remaining soil from erosion due to exposure to the elements, and to its mixing with other illegal refuse deposits, we realized that it was imperative to restart the sifting as soon as possible. In addition, a large amount of excavated soil remains on the Temple Mount itself, and in the light of events during the last month of Ramadan (June 2018), we saw that this earth is also in danger and needs to be sifted after finding a suitable controlled method for transferring it from the Mount.

Some of the Temple Mount dirt heaps that are stored at Tzurim Valley National Park. The heaps are in danger of erosion.

Despite that the project has yet to receive the promised government funding, we aren’t suspending the process of rescuing the remains of the Temple Mount heritage from the unsifted soil, together with advancing with their research and publication. The project has progressed so far thanks to wide public support, and we are asking you to continue your support until all sifting and research have been completed. Gaby always says that the project’s most important find is its people, and in truth we are only investing so much effort in trying to continue this important work for you.

In the coming weeks we will start marketing the sifting activity and setting up the site’s infrastructure. However, in order to ensure that the activity will be permanent and stable, we need to raise funds for the infrastructure and the activity in the first year; thereafter we hope that we will be able to operate the sifting site in an economically self-sustained way. We need your help with: 1) Donations to set up the infrastructure for the sifting and the first year of its activity. 2) Marketing the sifting activity. The more groups register, the less we will need to raise funds. See the How to Participate blog section for further details.

Thanking you for your continued support over the years!

The Temple Mount Sifting Project team.

Our New Mobile Sifting Program

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Students Sifting in the Community

The Mount Comes to You

Hello everyone, we have some news to share with you. The Temple Mount Sifting Project is renewing its activity outside the lab! For the first time in the history of archaeological research in Israel –the site will be coming to you. We will be bringing the antiquities-rich soil that was illegally removed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s to various communities and institutions throughout Israel. Students and volunteers will be able to sift through this material and take part in the important work of recovering the ancient artifacts within. A sifting activity was undertaken yesterday in the Yeshurun School in Petach Tikva – but this is just the beginning! We’ve already started taking requests from other communities throughout Israel.

This new archaeological program focuses on sifting the remaining earth from Solomon’s Stables that was illegally bulldozed from the Temple Mount in the late 90s. We’ve always encouraged our volunteers to take an active role in the salvage of artifacts buried in this soil, and over the years we’ve involved an unprecedented number of volunteers in our work. Because it is a sifting project, which can accommodate larger crowds than a traditional excavation, over 200,000 people have participated – a world record in archaeological research both in Israel and worldwide. Now, our project has been transformed into a mobile activity which can traverse the country and engage various schools, institutions, and communities.

As Zachi said, “we want to make Temple Mount heritage accessible to the entire Israeli public. In this new program, we now aim to reach the parts of the public who found it difficult to come to the sifting site in Jerusalem.”

The mobile sifting is accomplished by loading the soil onto a truck in large sacks which are then brought to the community’s site where sifting stations and a water system are set up. Each group or class participates in an activity that lasts for 2 hours (1.5 in the schools) and includes an educational presentation of the archaeology of the Temple Mount and the story of the Sifting Project. Then, the volunteers sift through the soil, collecting all the archaeological finds, which fascinates young and old alike.

Temple Mount soil being sifted in the city of Petach Tikva by Yeshurun High school students Photo Credit: Inbal Dasberg

Yeshurun High school principal, Rabbi Yaniv Cohen, expounded on the importance of the activity: “The sifting activity touches upon the past, and allows us to meet ourselves in the present, while showing a commitment towards the future. The act of sifting, while seemingly an act of separation, in fact enables us to come together and be a part of the unfolding story of Jewish history. This is doubly felt in Petach Tikva, with its strong commitment to Jerusalem.”

Students find ancient coin in community sifting. Photo Credit: Inbal Dasberg

“Seeing the students fascinated by the tangible interaction with the Temple Mount artifacts is exciting.” says archaeologist Haggai Cohen. “The students keep asking for a detailed explanation about each artifact they find, and with this hands-on experience, they are getting a deep education about the heritage of Jerusalem, its history, archaeology, and the cultures that formed it.”

As one student said, “We are having a lot of fun! We feel like we are taking part in a really important project finding old and important artifacts.”

We hope to reach every sector of society – Jews, Christians, and Muslims, religious and secular. The history of the Temple Mount shows that the Mount was an important center of activity for all the monotheistic religions for over three millennia.

We hope that we will receive the promised government funding soon. However, we will most likely need to set up some sort of matching program to continue with this mobile sifting program. If you would be interested in helping to sponsor a school or community, please be in contact with development@tmsifting.org.

BONUS: Finds in Honor of Jerusalem Day

Yehud coins from the Temple Mount. A barn own is depicted next to the lettersיהד (yhd) in ancient Hebrew script. These are both the first coins to be minted in Jerusalem and the first coins minted by Jews anywhere. Photo Credit: Zachi Dvira

In addition to resuming the sifting, in honor of Jerusalem Day, we’ve agreed to share with the public some of the special finds that they are currently researching. The sifting yielded a collection of over 6000 ancient coins, some of which were the first minted in Jerusalem, and by Jews. These rare coins were minted in Jerusalem in the end of the fourth century BCE, when Jerusalem served as capital of the semi-autonomous “Yehud” province of the Persian Empire. The coins were modeled after the most popular coin of the time – the Athenian Obol. The Jerusalemite coins copied the barn owl from the Greek coin, but changed the Greek letters ΑΘΕ, short for the name of the city of Athens, to the ancient Hebrew letters יהד – a short form of the name of the province Yehud Medinta. These coins mark the transition in trade from the use of gold, hacksilber (silver pieces), or other commodities to using a monetary system regulated by the authority which minted the coins.

Three of these Persian Period coins were found in the sifting of the Temple Mount soil, and another two tiny silver coins, too worn to read, are suspected to belong to this type as well. These coins are very rare. Not including those found by the Sifting Project, in the history of excavations of ancient Jerusalem, only five other such coins have been found. The relatively high number of such coins found by the Sifting Project is a result of the wet-sifting methodology perfected by the project, and the fact that the Temple Mount functioned as an administrative and commercial center during the early days of the Second Temple in addition to being the site of the Temple itself.